Tenth-ranked Texas Tech saved its absolute best for last Saturday afternoon.
With the Red Raiders trailing 71-64, LSU melted as Tech closed the game with a 12-0 run and handed the Tigers a crushing 76-71 SEC/Big 12 Challenge loss in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
In the last 66 seconds after LSU reserve forward Shareef O’Neal scored the Tigers’ only bench points of the game on a layup for a seven-point lead, Texas Tech did everything right and LSU everything wrong.
Here’s what happened at an awful end in a loss LSU coach Will Wade said caused him to be “as disappointed as I’ve been all year”:
0:59 left: Seven seconds after O’Neal scores, Texas Tech guard Mac McClung hits a 3-pointer to cut LSU’s lead to 71-67. Tech immediately calls time out.
0:48 left: LSU gets the ball to Cam Thomas, the SEC’s leading free throw shooter. Tech double-teams him, Thomas is forced to pass to LSU reserve forward Josh LeBlanc. Tech wisely fouls him immediately knowing he’s a 43 percent free throw shooter who has attempted just seven free throws this season.
LeBlanc misses the front end of a one-and-one and Tech rebounds.
0:31 left: After Tech misses a 3-pointer, McClung grabs an offensive rebound, scoots behind the 3-point line and airmails in a 3 for the last of his 22 points over two closing LSU defenders. Tech trails 71-70 as Wade calls LSU’s final time out.
0:23 left: LSU inbound passer Trendon Watford panics, throws towards a cutting Thomas but McClung beats him to the spot and gets a hand on the ball with 29 seconds left. It ricochets and six seconds later guard Terrace Shannon Jr. digs the ball out of a pile of battling bodies for a layup giving Tech a 72-71 lead.
“We’ve had some problems getting the ball inbounds all year,” Wade said, “and it’s something we’ve been working on. We put in a new set a couple of weeks ago. But our spacing wasn’t right.”
0:16: After Thomas misses a jumper and Watford fouls out in the rebound battle, two Shannon free throws extend Tech’s edge to 74-71.
“I just made some plays happen when I saw opportunity,” said Shannon, who scored 21 of his team-high 23 points in the second half.
0:03: Somehow, the ball ends up in Thomas’ hands for a wide-open game-tying three. Instead of forcing overtime, he overshoots the basket and LeBlanc fouls Shannon on the rebound.
“It felt good on the release,” Thomas said. “I just missed it.”
0:01: Shannon makes two final free throws and Tech is happy to get on the plane home with the five-point win.
“You are still giving yourself a chance by playing it to the bone,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, whose team improved to 12-5. “That’s our terminology, you just gotta keep putting yourself in position. There’s a poise and a confidence required to win a game down the stretch.”
LSU (11-5) was carried by junior point guard Javonte Smart and Thomas, who scored 29 and 25 points respectively. They scored the Tigers’ first 15 points of the game and LSU’s last 23 of 25.
It wasn’t like they were dominating the ball, but rather the Tigers had no other options.
Junior forward Darius Days, who picked up his game after halftime, exited with 10:57 left to play when he injured a knee trying to avoid landing on a Texas Tech player who had been knocked to the ground.
Days had 11 points and 9 rebounds at time, and he was LSU’s only inside offense since sophomore forward Watford had one of the worst games of his career.
He had just 4 points (2 of 11 field goals) and 4 rebounds. Even worse, he put himself into position to foul out when he was whistled for a technical foul (which also counted as his fourth personal foul) with 9:16 left for trash-talking just after Thomas made three throws for a 53-52 lead.
With no Days or Watford, LSU ended up getting destroyed in rebounding by Tech, 41-29. In the second half, the Red Raiders collected 12 of their game-total 16 offensive rebounds, scoring 10 of their total 12 second chance points.
The bad news for LSU is Wade said that Days is going to be sidelined for the next two weeks as the Tigers continue a stretch in which four of its five opponents have NCAA net rankings in the top 30.
Even worse, as evidenced by Texas Tech’s bench players outscoring LSU reserves 28-2, there’s no obvious candidate to replace Day.
Wade will think about that on Sunday and for sure on Monday as the Tigers prepare for a road game at SEC-leading No. 8 Alabama. It comes just two weeks after the Crimson Tide blasted LSU by 30 points in the PMAC hitting an SEC record 23 3-pointers.
But for at least the rest of Saturday, he’ll lament a victory that got away.
“Sometimes when we lose, we don’t play well enough to win and accept the result,” Wade said. “We played well enough to win, but they (Texas Tech) are so good like that. They just hang and hang and hang and then throw a punch at the end like that.”